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In American business schools, accounting is treated primarily as “accountingization” (Power and Laughlin, 1992), that is, as a body of technically refined calculations used by organizations to efficiently accomplish goals such as profit maximization . What, if any, theory that is taught reduces largely to cybernetics and systems theory, approaches eerily detached from the lived-realities of those organizations, even as their recommendations profoundly influence the solidarity, morale, productivity, creativity, and health of those who work in them. As for standard histories of the profession, these are progressivist and functionalist. They reiterate with minor variations a narrative first announced by A. C. Littleton, namely, that since its inception in the fourteenth-century accounting has evolved from “bookkeeping fictions” into “scientific facts” (Littleton, 1933). For its part the sociology of organizations, which has always had a fond place in its heart for the vibrant underlife of bureaucracies, has become increasingly blind to accounting procedures, which it happily relegates to technical experts. This is a bizarre development indeed, considering that the putative godfather of organizational sociology, Max Weber, essentially defined bureaucracy in terms of modern bookkeeping (Colignon and Covaleski, 1991: 142–43).1 Richard Colignon and Mark Covaleski attribute organizational sociology’s ignorance of accounting to its even more glaring inability to see the zerosum power relationships that characterize modern corporations . In functionalist organizational theory, domination translates into the innocuous, smiley-faced concept of “leadership,” and accounting is treated as simply another technology that promotes benign societal ends (153–54). ix Preface A sea-change is now upsetting these academic traditions. Since the early 1990s in the rare and secret precincts where the humanities meet management, European and American accounting theorists have begun writing from a critical historical perspective. Inspired in part by Michel Foucault’s idea of “governmentalism”—a convoluted neologism referring to the social control of minds and bodies—they are challenging the socially decontextualized “technocratic pretensions,” as one has called them, of their profession (Power and Laughlin, 1992). Following their own independent introduction to Foucault , sociologists have begun reciprocating the gesture, warily reaching out their hands in greeting to their long-lost cousins (cf. Carruthers and Espeland, 1991). Voilà! A critical sociology of accounting is born. From the standpoint of this emerging interdisciplinary dialogue, accounting is no longer considered only a revelation of the financial realities of an organization. Instead, it is seen as constitutive of that organization’s very being. That is to say, accounting is coming to be understood as “making” the very things it pretends to describe, including—through its estimates of equities and assets—a firm’s boundaries (Morgan and Willmott , 1993; Hines, 1988). Accounting does this by posing aspects of organizations in monetary terms, disclosing them as “good hard facts.” As this occurs, “softer” qualitative factors become irrelevant; in the end, invisible. Accounting procedures establish organization “targets” like the “bottom line” and provide monitoring systems to assess department and personal “outcomes.” “Deadwood” is exposed, “rising stars” identified; recommendations are made as to “merit increases” and the infliction of “force reductions.” In these ways accounting discourages certain behaviors and investments in certain organizational sectors, while it simultaneously encourages and promotes others. By compelling workers to attend to organizational “deadlines ” and performance “quotas,” accounting alters workers’ experiences of the procession of events. The speed of lived-time accelerates (Gleick, 1999). Postures rigidify, gait becomes more urgent; skeletal structures and organ function adapt accordx Preface ingly; health and longevity are affected (Bertman, 1999). What this implies is that far from being a morally and politically neutral enterprise, accounting by its very nature is political: not merely a power tool deployed by elites to aggrandize themselves , which is true enough; but a technology of domination in-itself; a technology legitimized by the ideology of efficiency. Under the banner of efficiency (cost-effectiveness, profit, etc.) accounting calculations have come to colonize themselves in virtually every institutional realm of modern society from sports, education, and criminal justice, to health-care, warmaking , and even religion. The vocabulary of efficiency has been elevated into the “distinctive morality” of our times (Miller and Napier, 1993: 645). Domination has assumed a presumably humane, scientific face; the old forms of coercion have disappeared. Today, each actor wants to do, and freely chooses to do, precisely what efficiency experts recommend. And what they earn from the organization that employs them is mathematically proven to be exactly what they deserve. A critical sociology of accounting bases itself on four convictions . The first is that “any way of seeing...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780791482797
Related ISBN
9780791465455
MARC Record
OCLC
63161498
Pages
151
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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